The Battle Within: POWs in Postwar Australia by Christina Twomey (NewSouth Publishing)
The Battle Within is a compelling study of the experience of homecoming for Australian prisoners of war. It expertly recounts the voices of the POWs as well as the diverse, often ambivalent public and official responses to these veterans’ bids for compensation, appropriate healthcare and livelihood support. The book brings extensive new materials to public view including diaries and letters, as well as medical reports and military records.
Twomey presents readers with powerful insights into how an idealised vision of Australian masculinity impacted responses to POWs in their struggles to return to civilian life. Comfortable notions about the qualities manifest by a ‘proper Australian soldier’ and a ‘real Australian man’ were upset by discomfort that ‘white Australians’ had capitulated to an Asiatic race. Traumatised POWs were problematic in postwar Australia for both practical and existential reasons.
The book is both a gripping history of the experiences of POWs in postwar Australia and how war commemoration evolved to include recognition of the traumatised survivor. The Battle Within is an empathic but controlled narrative of the POWs’ postwar experience and an astute analysis of larger trends shaping our national story beyond Anzac heroism. It is an elegant study of the experience of return and of the changing patterns of collective memory.